Life on the most remote inhabited island in the world

Sheep and moving to Tristan

It’s that time of the night again and Caitlin is once again on the phone to her dad – discussions again centering around the sheep, whether it will be a ‘girl’ sheep or not, and whether it is actually a good idea to dye the sheep pink (Caitlin is concerned that the sheep’s mother will be cross with it for dying its coat ….)

What these conversations are showing me though, is just how much my daughter misses her dad and just how important he is in her life.  I’ve been battling with the concept of allowing my child (whom no one can look after like me – with apologies to Erik :-)) to go so far away from me for more than 3 months.  Realising how much Caitlin misses her dad’s input into her life on a daily basis doesn’t make the decision any easier to swallow, but it does convince me that this is exactly what both of them need.

She is so excited at the idea of going to school on the island for a while and seeing her friend Ryan (who was born four weeks after her and with whom she was the greatest of friends when they were both babies).  I am comforted by the thought that she will be with her Muddish and Fardi (god mother and father on Tristan) and surrounded by the largest group of babysitters ever gathered together in one place.  The thought that she will have the experience of unprecedented freedom, of a welcome into every home and that she will come back to South Africa calling everyone ‘Tiddy’ or “Buddy’ makes me smile… I just wish I wasn’t going to miss her so very, very much!


Communicating with Tristan

It’s been far, far too long since I’ve written – life has, for the most part, been a bit complicated over the last three years, and I have been living back in South Africa since early 2008.

Erik, however, has been travelling backward and forward between the island since then, leaving our now 5 year old daughter, Caitlin, with me.  I’m listening to them at the moment having the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever heard – Caitlin is telling her dad he needs a hearing aid because he cannot hear a thing she is saying.  They are talking over one another with Caitlin asking her dad how big a sheep’s ‘poops’ are, and him answering that the feet are not too big, or that the ears are big enough for the sheep to hear!  Erik is, of course, trying to convince us that the problems with his hearing are related to the quality of the phone line, but Caitlin and I are more and more convinced it’s more about his auditory abilities than bad phone lines.

Caitlin is very keen on the idea of going back to Tristan with Erik in September so she can go and see her birth place and get to know the amazing people who welcomed us into their homes.  Most of the discussions around the impeding move are around the sheep Erik has promised Caitlin she will get when she comes to Tristan – currently, they are discussing whether it would be possible to dye the sheep pink so she can easily identify it among the other sheep.  Sadly, Erik is actually serious about this and even suggests that I contact my cousin who is a vet in order to identify the best way to go about dying the poor animal.

While the conversation continues around ‘excuse me’ and ‘I must have a pig and you must have a sheep’ I’m going to end off and take  Caitlin to bed… we may be in South Africa, but we miss Tristan every day.

RIP Steffie


Erik and I had to make a very difficult decision last week and put our beloved Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Steffie, to sleep.  She was very, very old and was battling with basic bodily functions, and was finding it hard to walk outside.  Erik, being on the island, had the terrible task of being the one to be there when  it was done, but he tells me she went peacefully and that it is important to remember she is no longer in pain.  I however, am finding it hard to get past the fact that I miss my friend.  Steffie has been with me for a long time – long before I met Erik – and was a great comfort through many, many difficult times.  Caitlin absolutely adored her and I know that one day, we will most likely get another dog, for Cailtin’s sake if not for ours – just not now…

This picture above is of Steffie, Erik and Caitlin (who was only 3 weeks old at the time)…

dmffire13feb083.jpgLocal Shock and Dismay at Calamity of Factory Loss
Initial report from Administrator David Morley sent at 13.37 on Wednesday 13th February

“The alarm was raised at around 0400 this morning when the Factory was seen to be on fire.  A fierce south westerly meant that by the time the fire engine arrived, nothing could be done except to let the Factory burn itself out.
No one was hurt.  But the community is understandably shocked and dismayed at what has happened.  However, it could have been so much worse.  Had the wind been blowing in a different direction the diesel tanks would probably have gone up too.  And as the fishing season has ended, the loss of revenue to the island is minimised.
However, also destroyed were the generators used to provide the island with its 24-hour electricity supply.  Work is currently in hand to link the standby generator to the mains, so that islanders can keep their freezers going.  The hospital has its own standby generator.  Power will be rationed and carefully managed until new generators can be supplied by Ovenstone from Cape Town.
Ovenstone MD Andrew James was extremely relieved to hear that no one was hurt, and is dispatching a team to Tristan to report on the situation.
The MOD is currently assessing the implications of this calamity on Operation Zest.” (Harbour refurbishment project)

Public Notice issued by Administrator David Morley and posted in the village
1. Following last night’s fire at the Factory, we hope to restore electricity supplies to the community later today. But it is absolutely crucial that you use only the minimum. Too heavy a load on the standby generator will cause it to fail. So use gas as much as possible and only essential electrical appliances. If you use too much electricity we may need to disconnect the supply to all residences. So please be careful.

2. Once the supply has been restored, it will be turned off at 1800 hours each day, and switched on again at 0630 the following morning. This restriction will apply until further notice.

3. Inter-island and FTN telephone services have been restored, although they will go down when the electricity is switched off. Internet and the TV service are suspended until further notice.

4. The Island Store will be closed until further notice, although arrangements will be made for those who need to buy essential goods to do so. Candles and salt will be rationed with immediate effect.

5. The hospital has its own standby generator and will continue to function normally. Those of you who rely on a regular power supply during the night in order to run medical aids should alert the Doctor of this requirement. If necessary you may need to attend the hospital for this purpose.

6. The Pub will open in the evening at 1800 hours and close at 1930 hours until further notice.

7. Please be assured that Ovenstone is taking this incident extremely seriously. Everyone there is working extremely hard to achieve a solution to our power shortage. We hope that the Lyme Bay can bring us a new generator as well as other essential equipment lost in the fire. As soon as I have more details I’ll let the community know.

Information from, the official Tristan da Cunha website.  Photograph credits to David Morely, Administrator, Tristan da Cunha

UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Press Release

We can confirm that early on Wednesday 13 February there was a fire at the fish-processing factory on Tristan da Cunha. This has, in turn, destroyed the generators that provide power to the island.
There were no injuries. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.

Our Administrator on the island is working closely with Tristan’s Public Works Department to ensure that standby power is provided to essential services.

We are liaising with the factory owners, Ovenstone Agencies, in Cape Town, DfID and other procurement agencies to ensure that a replacement generator for the island is obtained quickly. We hope that it will travel on the RFA Lyme Bay when it sails from Cape Town on its way down to Tristan before the end of February.

–  News flash  –
The crayfish factory burned down last night (12 February), but thankfully there were no casualties. 
There is minimal stand power currently on the island, and all telecommunications and internet communications are unreliable, depending on electricity provision. 
Government and Ovenstone staff are working to restore additional basic power as a temporary alternative until additional assistance arrives from Cape Town.
Updates will be provided as they are available

Back to Cape Town


Written 1 February whilst en route to Cape Town 

Our journey from Tristan started on Sunday 27th January, and we left the island under cloudy skies and with bumpy seas.  Caitlin fell asleep on the journey from the harbour to the boat, so missed the scary lifting up of the ‘box’ onto the boat.  The box is used for those are not in any position to climb up the pilot ladder onto the boat – such as those of us the kids or with injuries.  I normally prefer to box to the climb, but must admit that this time, my heart was sitting in my throat for a fair amount of the time. We got underway at about lunch time, and have been blessed with glorious weather all of the way, so far.  The first few days were really, really hot, but as we have neared Cape Town, the weather has become milder and today, the sun is shining, the skies are clear and there is a breeze coming through the port hole of our cabin. 

Caitlin and Erik are having a sleep and I’m taking this opportunity to write something for the blog. Leaving Tristan was really, really hard – I hate saying good bye at the best of times, but leaving the island is really heart wrenching and I’m finding it harder and harder every time we have to go back to South Africa for a visit.  The thought of going back into the ‘big’ world is also a little intimidating, as on Tristan we live in a bit of bubble and our lives are very much focussed on the things that affect us and the rest of the world doesn’t really seem to have much relevance most of the time.  It is going to take some adjusting to, and Caitlin in particular I think it going to find it hard being in a city, for what is effectively, the first time.  She was in Cape Town so long ago (and left when she was four months old) that this is going to be something of a shock to her system. We got our Land Rover the day before we left to come back to Cape Town and I took her for a ride out to the patches and for some mom/daughter bonding time… she cried the whole way out and back and does not like the car very much at all… no wonder really, she was last in a car when she was a tiny baby. 

The last day I was at home on Tristan, I spent some time getting some gifts together for our girls in Germany and for family in South Africa.  Debbie Elsmore, who lives on Tristan at the moment, makes some of the most stunning crafts and I ended up buying a whole load of things from her to take home. 

 I also bought some lovely rockhopper penguin soft toys from Jimmy and Felicity Glass and think these are really, really super gifts to give to people.  As always, there was so many things to get, but only so much money with which to get it… 

I have resolved this year to take a leaf out of the Tristan book and try to be just a little more Tristanian if I can.  By this, I mean this year I’d like to make the effort to show people how important they are.  Very often, we have intentions of letting the people in our lives know they make a difference, but time and the rush of life means that before we know it, a week or three has passed, and that phone call we meant to make is still on the ‘to do’ list.  On Tristan, they seem to understand that time is something you can’t take for granted, and they take the time to show one another they care – not necessarily in grand ways, but by baking a cake for your birthday; by making you a roast for lunch, for no other reason than just because they can; by arriving at your house with gifts of meat or potatoes – in each of these very special ways, do the people of Tristan remind one another that they matter.  I’m going to try to remember the important birthdays, to take the time to write to my friends, and to always put my best effort into the people in my life.  Whether this is always going to be possible is another thing, but perhaps being around the Tristanians will help me with my resolve. 

We left our dog Steffie with Marie while we are away in Cape Town.  It is always a difficult decision – to leave her where she is and take the chance we may not see her again, or bring her back to Cape Town with us (with all the accompanying bureaucracy and needless stress on the dog).  For myself, I know I’d prefer to have her with us, but realistically, at 16 years old, she is hardly in a position to do the trip between Tristan and Cape Town without any thought.


More to follow soon….